The Woman in the Window
by Joyce Carol Oates
Issue #217 • June 9th, 2016•Buy Now!
Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.
Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.
No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous.
It is eleven a.m. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven a.m.
She’s doing what she does best: waiting.
In fact, she is waiting for him in the way that he prefers: naked. Yet wearing shoes.
Nude he calls it. Not naked.
(Naked is a coarse word! He’s a gentleman and he feels revulsion for vulgarity. Any sort of crude word, mannerism—in a woman.)
She understands. She herself disapproves of women uttering profanities.
Only when she’s alone would she utter even a mild profanity—Damn! God damn. Oh hell...
Only if she were very upset. Only if her heart were broken.
He can say anything he likes. It’s a masculine prerogative to say the coarsest cruelest words uttered with a laugh—as a man will do.
Though he might also murmur—Jesus!
Not profanity but an expression of awe. Sometimes.
Jesus! You are beautiful.
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of most recently the novel The Man Without a Shadow, the story collection The Doll-Master, and (forthcoming, Fall 2016) Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life. In fall 2016 she will be Visiting Distinguished Professor in the Graduate Writing Program at New York University.
Patrick Ryan on The Woman in the Window
Paintings with people in them always suggest a narrative. Part of the fun of looking at, say, Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is wondering what the story is behind the image. Why does this pregnant woman reading the letter look so sad? Who is the letter from? Is it bad news? Maybe from the unborn child’s father? We can’t help but wonder about the context and start filling in the blanks. But it takes an imagination as colossal as Joyce Carol Oates’ to look at Edward Hopper’s painting, Eleven A.M. and create the story you’re about to read.
In the painting, a woman—naked but for a pair of high-heeled shoes—sits in a chair and stares out through an open window. The woman seems to be waiting for something. The title of the painting tells us only the time of day. As Oates reveals in her interview with One Story, one of her starting points in writing about this woman is that she is forever trapped in her waiting; it is, forever, eleven a.m.
Waiting for what? Waiting for whom?
We’re honored to welcome Joyce Carol Oates into the One Story family, and we’re delighted to present to you “The Woman in the Window.”
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
However, “Don’t be discouraged” is probably a very good mantra.
And in another context, after my first husband Ray Smith died suddenly, my dear friend Gloria Vanderbilt consoled me: “One breath at a time, Joyce. One breath at a time.” This is applicable to all of our lives, to our moments of crisis as well as our moments of calm: One breath at a time.